By Susanna Parent
We are one week out from the birth of our King and today’s first reading makes me feel bundled up in warmth. The opening verse reads “shout for joy…sing joyfully…be glad and exult with all your heart!” (Zephaniah 3:14) for our Savior is in our midst. After three weeks of waiting and preparing for His arrival, exult I will. But I won’t be the only one. Just a few verses later, we hear that the Lord rejoices over us! “The Lord, your God, is in your midst, A mighty savior. Who will rejoice over you with gladness, And renew you in His love, Who will sing joyfully because of you” (Zephaniah 3:17).
The book of Zephaniah is not long, it consists of only three chapters. Unlike the end of the book, the first two chapters were written to Judah and Jerusalem to warn the people of their impending judgment and to encourage them to repent. The last chapter offers us hope in God’s promise of mercy. “The Lord has removed the judgment against you, he has turned away your enemies; The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear” (Zephaniah 3:15). Judgment and mercy share a close relationship, and St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of this in his Summa Theologica. He says, “Mercy does not destroy justice, but in a sense is the fullness thereof.”
It can be a temptation to associate God’s justice with God’s wrath, but a professor of mine once said that St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us that “the wrath of one who loves is just punishment. Wrath is what infinite love looks like when we are not rightly ordered to it.” Yes, punishment can be a result of justice, but justice also leads to righteousness.
The word “justice” comes from the Latin word “iustus,” meaning “righteousness,” and it relates to the right ordering of things. Justice is evident through the love God shows to the sinner by bestowing his mercy on them. Just think of Mary Magdalen! Jesus Christ has fulfilled the righteousness of God, which allows us to be “renewed in his love” and receive His gift of mercy.
Jesus spoke to St. Faustina saying, “I cannot punish even the greatest sinner if he makes an appeal to My compassion, but on the contrary, I justify him in My unfathomable and inscrutable mercy” (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska).
In this final stretch of Advent, be at peace knowing that he renews you with His love.
About the author:
Susanna Parent serves as Evangelization Manager for the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in the Office of Evangelization. She is a graduate of the Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry program with the School of Divinity at the University of St. Thomas. When she’s not reading and writing you can find her enjoying life with her new husband, brewing French press coffee in her kitchen, reading wine labels with friends in an effort to discover the perfect Pinot Noir and blogging about her travel adventures.
Photo courtesy of Susanna Parent. Used with permission. All rights reserved.